Syrian Army Denies Using Cluster Bombs in Battle With Rebels

Asked on the use of Russian-made bombs by Assad's troops, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggests origin of ammo could be former Warsaw Pact countries.

Syria denied on Monday that it had used cluster bombs in its battle with rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad, saying it did not possess such weapons.

A brief military statement carried by state television came in response to a report by Human Rights Watch which said on Sunday that government forces had dropped Russian-made cluster bombs over civilian areas.

"The Syrian Arab Army does not possess these kinds of weapons and affirms that these reports [of their use] are completely untrue," the army statement said.

Cluster bombs explode in the air, scattering dozens of smaller bomblets over an area the size of a sports field. Most nations have banned their use under a convention which became international law in 2010, but which Syria has not signed.

A video clip which activists said was filmed in the town of Al-Bab, north east of Aleppo, also showed cluster submunitions scattered on the floor of what they said was a civilian house.

Another piece of footage filmed in Hammouriyeh in rural Damascus showed the remains of what appeared to be a cluster canister bomb, which holds the smaller bombs before they are released.

HRW said in its report that Syrian forces had dropped Russian-made bombs from planes and helicopters, with many of the strikes taking place near the main north-south highway running through the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan.

Other towns targeted included Tamanea, Taftanaz and al-Tah. Cluster bombs were also used in other areas in Homs, Aleppo and Latakia provinces as well as near Damascus, the group said.

Asked about the Human Rights Watch report, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it had not been confirmed and suggested the bombs could have been made by former Warsaw Pact countries.

"The region is full of weapons. Weapons are being sent to Syria and other countries of the region in huge quantities," Lavrov told Russian journalists in Luxembourg on Sunday.

"It's very hard to establish who is supplying ammunition and other types of weaponry and from where."

He indicated that some eastern European nations that used to be Soviet satellites have produced weapons based on Soviet prototypes without proper licenses. The HRW report said it was not known how or when Syria acquired the alleged weapons.